Chinatown Interview: Interviewee
Chinatown Interview: Interviewer
Chinatown Interview: Date
Chinatown Interview: Language
Chinatown Interview: Occupation
Chinatown Interview: Interview (en)
Q: Well, today is April 1st, 2004. I’m sitting in the office of Tony Wong, here at Sino Television on Broadway. Tony, let’s start off in the present. Tell us a little bit about what Sino television is and what you do here.
Wong: Well, Sino Television has been in operations for the past six years. We started off in Flushing, Queens, actually. First we started on one channel, Channel 78. It’s a 24/7 Chinese language TV station. Then, after two years, when Time Warner roll out its digital platform, we were given two more channels, and they’re all on digital format. So right now we move our operation back to Manhattan, because we have a radio station here as well, also in Chinese language.
By locating these two properties here, we thought that we could utilize our resources better and serve our Chinese public better.
Q: Okay. Well, we’re going
to have plenty of time to talk more about your work and the role that
I know Sino Television has played in the Chinese community. But
first, we want to learn about you, as an individual. Have you always
been interested in media? What was your background?
Wong: Yeah, I have always been interested in the media. First of all, I was born and grew up in Hong Kong. I came here to study broadcasting. I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Eastern Washington State University in the West Coast, and I came here for my graduate study. And I was very, very fortunate that right after graduation I found a job with WNBC, Channel 4. And I spent a lot of years at NBC, and I have never taken up any other professions, other than in communications. It was either in television or on radio, or in marketing in the media.
Q: And what year was it when you first arrived in America?
Wong: I arrived here, I believe it was September 1st, 1971.
Q: Wow. A long time ago. [laughter] And did you have relatives in America?
Wong: No, no, no. I didn’t. I had, actually, no. I went to a very small town, Spokane Washington. I didn’t know a single soul. But I was very, very, fortunate. You know, I had a college professor that didn’t know me but they were very kind people and they played as a host family, and so when I first came here, I stayed with him, and he was also in the business as well. He was a professor teaching journalism, but he was also a local anchor person at a local TV station. So, I can say that personally and professionally I’ve been involved with the media almost all my entire life in the States.
Wong: My families were always in Hong Kong, yeah. Even my parents, they, as far as I know, they claimed they were born in Hong Kong.
Q: And you didn’t have British citizenship?
Wong: At that time, I had a British passport. But whether that is considered a British citizenship, I don’t know. I think, shortly after I got married here, I and my wife traveled to London, I was still holding a British passport, and I believe I still had to apply for a visa to get into London. So I don’t think that is a British citizenship.
Q: And you didn’t consider going to school in England instead of America?
Wong: Well, not that I didn’t want to, I think at that time the general consensus was that going to England was too expensive. And I grew up in a very poor family. I mean, the fact that I could come here was a miracle itself. I was able to find a college that even for out of state students I think at that time it was like three thousand dollars, everything included, room and board and college tuition. So, it’s a matter of necessity rather than preference. If you ask me what would I have prefer, I probably at that time, I probably would have said London because I think a degree from England was worth more than a degree from the United States, you know.
Q: And what did your family do in Hong Kong?
Wong: My mother---my father pass away when I was eight years old. My mother had four children. My mother owned a vegetable store, like a stand. I basically grew up on the street there.
Q: So very working class.
Wong: Very. Very. Extremely. Yeah.
Q: And when you decided to come to America, did you know already you wanted to pursue a career in media?
Wong: Yes, Absolutely. First of all, I always [coughs], even when I was a kid, I always dream of going abroad, you know, and the fact that I wanted to go into the media is because at that time I wanted to be a camera person, that maybe I can afford to travel to different parts of the world, and go either photo shooting or movie shooting, but I never get a chance to do that. But I’m doing something that is related to production.
Q: But Hong Kong in the ‘70s, as far as television, only has several networks---
Wong: Only one. TVB.
Q:---TVB. And like---
Wong: I don’t even, at that time I don’t think TVB, no---
Q: ATV didn’t exist
Wong: No, ATV didn’t exist. I think it was just TVB. Like any kid, I thought that when I finish my study here then I would go back and be a “big time” director or whatever, you know, but life takes on different turns.
Q: Did your mother encourage you
to pursue this line of profession?
Wong: No, not really. No. I think my mother was too busy to, you know, not that she didn’t take care of us. I think she tried very hard to take care of us. She worked very hard to support the family, and so a lot of decision was really left with us. I picked a school, I make my, whatever arrangement, you know. But she didn’t think that it was necessary for me to go away. She felt that there are always opportunities if I really work on it. You know, even back in Hong Kong, if I wanted to do something, if I really put my mind to it, I can still make it.
But then, I have a different agenda. I think that learning something is one thing, but to travel to another part of the world and really experience it is another. And I think I made a very good choice.
Q: How did you support yourself? I mean, three thousand is nothing in today’s world, but in 1971---
Wong: It was still quite a lot of money. I think in the first year, before I came, my uncle, my mother’s brother, actually, he kind of support me initially. And once I got here, I immediately took a job as a dishwasher at college, and then I think after six months or so, I took another job working at the library, in addition to being a dishwasher. Then at night, after being a dishwasher at the cafeteria at college, then at night I would take maybe two or three nights a week I would work at a local restaurant to be a dishwasher again.
And then, in the summer, I work as a farmer. Then I like, working for Green Giants, Del Monte, you know, picking peas and things like that.
Q: So ’71, as a Chinese---and you spoke English when you came to America?
Wong: Yes, yes.
Q: But Spokane, Washington, is not, is not a---
Wong: It’s quite a culture shock. Because that, you know, in movies or in magazine or newspaper, you always think of United States as New York City. So when you got off the plane, go to a place where, you know, you don’t see any sky scrappers and it’s flatland, it’s farming, so you know, it’s quite a culture shock. You know, you’re there, oh, this is the United States. You know, “am I in the wrong place?” I think, you know, Hong Kong is much more sophisticated, much more advanced than the United States. But that’s what I meant, you know. That you could learn only so much from textbooks, movies, or whatever. You have to visit the place and really experience it.
Q: Did you have a hard time
Wong; No. Because I really like, even when I was kid before I came here, I liked Western music, Western movies, I had no problem assimilating, at all. But of course there are things I don’t know, like slang that people use, I wouldn’t---I cannot tell the difference. I wouldn’t know the meaning. But in generic terms, I don’t think I had a tough time fitting in. I fit in pretty well.
Q: And you pursue a degree in what, now?
Wong: In broadcasting. Radio and television.
Q: For four years, after that, and you got your first job as what?
Wong: No, actually, no. Four years I, I finished in three years. When I came I was already a second year student because the educational system is different, the British system and the American system is different. After high school, in Hong Kong, I went to two additional year as quote and unquote, like a, in Hong Kong that’s considered like pre-college classes. So when the student from Hong Kong come here, the American colleges already recognize that that’s equal to one year’s worth of credits, or whatever.
So when I came, I was second year already, and I finish in three years, and then I want to go to graduate school and I was accepted by Kansas, Syracuse or New York City. My professor told me that if you are going to pursue a career in television, there are two places. Either you go to Los Angeles, or you go to New York, and I was already in West Coast for three years, so that’s why I came to the East Coast. And then I did two years in Brooklyn College. Right after I graduate, I got a job at WNBC.
Q: As what?
Wong: As an on-air promotion coordinator. Then, I moved pretty fast, actually. I spent less than two years, no, I spent a year there, and then I moved to another area called “sales traffic,” spent two years, I was made manager of the department. But that really is not the area that I want to pursue.
Then, after two years there, I landed a job at the network, you know, to be a on-air operation manager, and that’s where I really get to see what television is all about.
Q: It seems you were moving up the corporate side of television, not so much the creative side.
Wong: Correct, yes.
Q: But what happened to your dreams of becoming a director---
Wong: [laughs]. No, and again, you know, I guess it is fate. Then I got a call from a schoolmate, not a classmate, he was two year senior than I was in Brooklyn College. Asked me if I were interested in making a little money shooting commercial. I said, sure, why not. And so I, as a production assistant, we were doing commercial in Chinatown for the owner of Sino Television. At that time, he already put programming on Manhattan Cable, you know, that’s back in ’74, ’75, a couple of hours a night. So, and that’s how, I---the connection was made to my current employer.
After that, then he started a television station, not a full-time, like, 12 hours a day. But it is on the ITFS system. It’s on microwave. But it was quite an elaborate set up. We have a studio in this building, on the first floor, and I got to do production, okay. But if I had to back track a little bit, while I was working at the corporate management side at NBC, because we were in management, and during strike or whatever, then we have to fill these jobs. If there were a neighbor’s strike, the tape operator is not working on a camera, people are not working, or if there’s a director’s strike, and then the management have to fill in the job. So I got my training, doing directing job, I got my training doing camera work, so, and I use those training and do it in Chinese language here. It seems that it worked out perfectly. I made my money during the day and then at night I got to produce news program in Chinese. I got to do some magazine type format shows, where we interview accomplish Chinese residents here in the city.
So, I got a lot of job satisfaction out of that. That’s the creative side. But now it’s different. I’m in a very good position where I and the people that work with me, can work together, and we can design studios, design the equipment, pick out equipment that we want to use, and we also work together and try to see what kind of programs that we want to produce and serve the public better.
So, it’s fun. It’s very hard work, it’s very difficult, but it’s fun.
Q: I want to take you back a little bit again. Now, at what point did you decide, “I’m going to stay in America, I’m not going to go back to Hong Kong and work for TVB.”
Wong: At which---[laughs]---Ah, I, you bring up a very good question. I---even though when I was working for Channel 4, I went back to Hong Kong from time to time. I had many, many talks with TVB, talking to different level. Never came to term.
I just feel that it was too much to give up, and it’s too much a risk. Plus I was getting older, I have children here, where their welfare is my concern, and I’d like them to go to school here and all that.
Q: ---in this profession. Do you think that you could climb as high in this country as, say, a foreigner in Hong Kong could?
Wong: It depends on which area. There are accomplished, very accomplished Chinese broadcasters in this country. I mean, my boss, the owner of this company. This company ranked I think number 25 as a group owner in this country. For a Chinese, I think it’s well accomplished. There’s another fellow, John See, the head guy for Encore, plus there are some accomplished broadcasters in the writing field, for instance, scriptwriter, you know, that may be difficult. Director, we have accomplished Chinese director making to Hollywood now.
It’s much, much, easier, nowadays, than when I was just graduating from college. In those days it may be difficult. Nowadays I think it’s much, much easier. Not that it is a piece a cake, I don’t think so. But certainly it is a lot easier. I think, well, if you talk about discriminations, there is always going to be, it just depend on how you’re going to take care of it.
Q: At what point did you join Sino on a full-time basis?
Wong: Well, actually, I joined Sino a little more than six years ago.
Q: Oh, okay, so there was a lot of time between NBC and this---
Wong: Yeah, there were, there were, when I left NBC, then I, landed a job at a Hispanic, Spanish language educational station. It was a start up operation, and the, the guy sold me the job because he brought up two points, he said, “Well, you have managed in an English language environment, you have managed a Chinese stations, now it’s a Spanish language, it’s a good challenge for you.” And I think he was right. I don’t speak Spanish, but I did it for him. I helped him do the start up, and I worked there for a few years.
Then, after that, I was involved in the radio business, you know, I team up with a partner and we build a radio station in New Jersey. That took me a couple of years. After we built it, we sold it, and that’s the time I start working for Sino TV.
Q: And you came in as what, at
the beginning, at Sino?
Wong: At Sino? The general manager for the TV station. Because I work for them before as a part-time, you know, when I was working for NBC. They know I can deliver, they know my work style, they know how I work.
Q: How is this station funded?
Q: This is a privately owned---
Wong: It is a privately owned. We have no, we have no affiliation with any organization, any companies. It’s privately owned, and it’s strictly commercial broadcasting. There’s no political overtone, there’s no propaganda, it’s strictly broadcasting. And the owner is also an American-educated person. He graduated from Syracuse.
Q: He is Chinese, yes?
Wong: He is Chinese. You know, I think we more or less have the same dream, doing things that we want to do. Except that he is a business person.
Q: And where is Sino seen?
Wong: In the city.
Q: In the Tri-State Area?
Wong: Not in the Tri-State, in New York City, and also in part of New Jersey, well, yeah, part of New Jersey, like north Bergen County, along the Hudson River, and Staten Island, all the five boroughs of New York City, plus Mount Vernon and Westchester County.
Q: So you’re not at all seen on the West Coast?
Wong: Not yet, not yet. But we’re getting there. Very close, very close. I think we, if we can get our act together, I think we can be up and running in a month or two.
Q: At the moment, it’s a 24-hour running channel?
Wong: Yes. Yes.
Q: And what kind of programs and languages do you broadcast in?
Wong: Well, we have three channels. One analogue channel and two digital channels. One digital channel is for movies, 24 hours movie channel. And that movie channel has movies from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China. But in addition to that, I think we are the only movie channel airing Hollywood movies in Chinese language. I think we’re the only one in the country.
Q: With subtitles, or voice over?
Wong: Voice over. Dubbed in Chinese. And so, then the other channels, we have news, we have drama, we have public affair programs, education programs. These programs are from China, from Taiwan, and also from Hong Kong.
Q: How much is produced here, in New York City?
Wong: Here, in New York City, on a daily basis, we produce one hour Mandarin news, half hour Cantonese news. On a weekly basis, we have one financial program, taped at Wall Street, then another public affair program, it’s a talk show, interviewing accomplished Chinese in the community.
Q: So all of the shows are in either Cantonese or Mandarin, is that right?
Wong: Right. And some of the shows, they are in dual audio channel, SEP, meaning that the people at home, then can press the SEP button, they can either pick the Mandarin language or the Chinese dialect.
Q: You said earlier that Sino TV doesn’t have any political agenda. From what I’ve seen in Chinatown, it seems almost impossible for any organization, any Chinese organization to not have a preference, meaning leaning toward either China or Taiwan, something, there are, like for example, are your broadcasters, your on-air people, are they mainly from China, are they from Taiwan, from Hong Kong, everywhere?
Wong: Yeah, they’re everywhere. They’re everywhere. And I can, if you look at our program schedule, we have a number of hours of programming from CCTV, which is from China, we have a number of hours of programs from Taiwan. As a matter of fact, we have less programming from Hong Kong, and that’s not by design, that’s because of the financial burden. It’s more expensive to import programming from Hong Kong. We have a satellite dish here looking at CCTV on a 24-hour basis, any program that we want to use, we just pass it out. The same with the Taiwan.
We want to have a philosophy that we are the liaison between the public and the world. The world means the mainstream society here. The world means Hong Kong and China, and Hong Kong, so that they can keep in touch with what’s happening in their homeland.
You know, with a 24/7 type of operation, I think we have plenty of opportunity to present different views, you know, for people, I mean, they make their preference, and we just want to present it.
Q: But there’s no regulation, or pressure of any kind [cross talk]---
Wong: No, no, no. As a matter of fact, we’re on cable. If it’s just a regular UHF or VHF, we need a license or something like that, but this is on a cable channel. The cable operators are not giving us any type of sponsor, censorship. But it’s just that our principal, we want to be able to not only to entertain, but to educate and inform the public. And I think it’s very, very important. You know, you mentioned in the community, there are people leaning left, right, and sometimes, when you have an agenda, you may not present a very balanced point of view, and we want to be in a position, or at least we try to be in a position that we can offer different viewpoints, so that people can make their educated decision.
Q: Sino Television I know is not the only Chinese broadcaster in New York City. There is several dozen others. What differentiates you from the other broadcasters, and are you the leader? I mean, are you the biggest?
Wong: Well, I think that’s up for other people to decide, but I think the difference is we are very independent, and local. There are other Chinese services, you are right, but they have affiliation with Hong Kong. Either their mother company is in Hong Kong, or in China. Then there are other services that are not full time. But we operate our channel, as I said, just like a commercial broadcasting station. It is strictly from the view point of what kind of programming we can provide to the public, in order to generate commercial advertising, in order to generate subscribers, because that’s where we get our funding, so we run things quite different from other Chinese television services.
Q: Do you think part of your role is to be kind of a bridge between the Chinese community to the mainstream American community in any way?
Wong: Personally, I hope so, and I think from the business point of view, we hope so. I think that is the key to the success. We serve a public, or a group of people that may have language problem, they may not be watching CNN, they may not be watching FOX News, and I think we would like to be in a position to bridge that gap, to make them aware of what’s happening in this country, what’s happening in New York City.
And we also serve a group of people who watch, or who understand the language who may be watching CNN or may be watching MSNBC, but they want to find out what is happening in China, or Taiwan. They may read the New York Times about the Taiwan election but, to hear a different point of view from a news coming from Taiwan, I am sure it will present them with a different perspective.
And I think in that sense, I really think that we serve as a liaison, or a bridge, not only to the public who have a language problem. We want to serve the entire Chinese public that, you know, to the mainstream society and also to their homeland.
Q: So on the topic of language
barrier, we know that a lot of people in Chinatown, because they
don’t speak English, have a lot of problem assimilating to
mainstream America. But even not mentioning those, we also know that
in the last ten years, the Fujianese community has been the fastest
growing. But yet, your station only, and all your
both television and radio, only broadcast in Cantonese and Mandarin.
I don’t have the exact numbers, but what happened? Well, who is
serving the Fujianese community? Where are they going to get their
information, if they don’t speak English, they don’t
speak Mandarin, they don’t speak Chinese, and I think a lot of
them can’t even read, because they are from the rural areas. So
where are they going to get information?
Wong: Well, I don’t know your assertion is right. You bring out a very good point. We tried to, at one time, you know, having the same thought that you have, tried to find Fukinese radio personality to do, let’s say, a three hours program at night. And the response that I receive, that because the Fukianese, they speak Mandarin. They don’t necessarily have to be listening to Fukianese language. So I think, when you look at this, I think, down the road, I really don’t see that much a deal. I think it’s more and more geared toward Mandarin, rather than Toisanese, or Cantonese. Right now, yes, there’s still a sizable Cantonese-speaking group here, but I think eventually, I think it’s going to be mixed.
Our Cantonese stations, there are a lot of Mandarin-speaking listeners. They call up, they ask, can we speak Mandarin, and we say, yes, by all means. And they’ll give their viewpoints in Mandarin, they will ask questions in Mandarin.
Q: As you know, that’s not reality, because Chinatown is very much divided in that way. There really isn’t one language that really unites everybody.
Wong: But isn’t that the problem, though?
Q: That is the problem, and I have heard from different people in the Fujianese community that say that they are very isolated, because so much of Chinatown is not servicing them, you know, as a result they as a community need to build so many things for themselves, because there is not much for them in Chinatown, because of the language barrier.
Wong: Well, I don’t know. I think we should look at it as the services for all Chinese rather than one special group.
Q: Do you think Chinatown as a community is a united community, because we’re all Chinese?
Wong: Well, as a whole, I would say, yes. As a whole, I would say that they are making progress. Look at Chinatown, after 911 the business may suffer a little bit, but as a whole, I think it is still very prosperous, certainly better than when I first came to New York, so you mentioned something that, there are groups that build up certain things to ascertain the need.
Whether I agree with it or not, I think it is a positive thing. At least people are doing something .You know Chinese, they are very, traditionally they are very passive. And now, if they recognize a problem, they are doing something about it, I think it is pointing at the right direction.
Q; So let’s talk about, you mentioned 911. You are located at 449 Broadway, which is just about a block from Chinatown and not so far from Ground Zero. How has that event impacted this business, or your role as a community broadcaster?
Wong: Well, I have to say that I really, nobody would like to see another incident like 911. But that happening, ironically kind of put us on the map. We launched the radio station, the Chinese language station, I think a few months prior to 911, and when it happened, as you mentioned, because of the proximity, you know, we see what happened, and fortunately, our transmitter were not affected. We were on the air. We give out information, we tell people what happened, and we play a very, very, important role during that period of time, because, you know, at one time I think there wasn’t any, even newspaper. People don’t know what to do, so we have people practically calling up, you know, my son is in school, you think that he can come, what train will he be taking, and what can be done, what can I do?
So, you asked earlier, whether I see that Chinatown is united. I think if it is not united, I think it certainly has made substantial improvements towards that direction. Not only do we play the direct role or the principal role in giving out information, but the people themselves, the public themselves, you know, when they hear questions, if we don’t know the answer, they will call up and give out the information. And I think in the old days you don’t see this type of thing happen. It wouldn’t.
Q: You mean Chinese people participating in that way?
Wong: Yeah, right, I mean, actively participating in the process. You know, for example, we announced on the air that if you have gloves, if you have water, the fire company they need this material, or police precinct, they need these items and all that. Then, they would go there and donate this material. And while we are still giving out these public service announcements, then an audience, a listener would call up and say, “Oh, I’ve just been to Fire Company XYZ, they don’t need gloves anymore, they got plenty of them. You should donate it to another company.” So they themselves really take part into the whole process, and they would not sit back and let other people do it. And I think for Chinese, I think that was really a giant step forward, ‘cause in the old days, you know, everybody just doing things for themselves, they don’t care what other peoples are doing.
But in this instance, they really did a terrific job. Our radio personalities were on the air day and night, and we have Chinese restaurants they prepare their food and they brought it up for us. They also would ask us to help them to deliver food to the police, to the police precinct or the police headquarter, ‘cause they really wanted to help. And then they felt that they are part of the society. And that’s something that in my 30-some years here, I have never seen that until that time. I was really, really, very impressed. And yes, a lot of people give us credit for doing a fundraising, and raise so much money, but I think the credit should really be going back to the people in the community.
I mean, they made a point that they wanted to demonstrate that they cared. ‘Cause a lot of people say, “Ah, the Chinese, they come here, they make the money, they go home and retire,” and all that. But they made it a point to show that they care, they are part of the society and they want to be very united, and they want to tell the mainstream that they are united. And I think that that is a very strong message.
Q: There’s something else that you’re talking about, donations and money. I think you’re being modest. Your station actually collected over a million dollars, which is something that---
Wong: Yeah, 1.45 million---
Q: Which is completely unprecedented in this community---
Q: How did that happen? Who initiated this, how did that happen?
Wong: Well, my boss always gave me credit, that I initiated it. No, it’s not. I think the ones that, who initiated it was really the people in the community, and they call us up, you know, a lot of people call up the station and say, you know, we want to do something, I want to write a check, I want to donate money, where do I send this check, and we always educated them. You know, “You just write, Red Cross.” But for some people, even writing “Red Cross” would be a problem. They don’t know how to spell “Red.” You ask them to write a whole address, it would be very, very difficult. And then they said, “Can we just bring the check to the station, and you write it for us.”
Q: Bring you cash, and then they---
Wong: No. They said, “Well,
I don’t know how to write, can I bring the check to your
station, you write it for us?” Yes, for one or two, yes, it’s
okay, but, you know, and then we get a lot of requests. Then somebody
would say, “Can we just give you the money?
it, you send it. We trust you. You do it.”
So, we did fundraising before. Our company did some fundraising before in the community, and it had been successful as well, but we hate to do that, because no matter how you do it, people always suspect that you take portion of the money, you know---
Q: There’s corruption involved somewhere---
Wong: Yeah, into your own pocket or whatever. That’s why we really didn’t want to do it. But the request was really, really, overwhelming. And then, I convinced my boss that, you know, we really have to do something, because if there were five phone calls, four would be asking us to do this type of thing. So then we say, “Okay, we’ll do it, you can send cash, or you can walk to the station, we’ll give you a receipt right away, we are not going to take your money.” And when we first started we thought that hey, the most maybe fifty-thousand, a hundred thousand. I think the first couple of days we already reached over a hundred, like two hundred thousand, something like that. And the momentum just kept on going. It just kept on going. And then, when it gets to a million, then people will call up and give us credit and say, “Oh, your station is doing great, we really support your station, without your station we don’t know what we would have done, you know, how we could have functioned, let’s do it for, let’s do it and reach the number to 1430. At that time our call letter, you know, our frequency was 1430.
And, so, they did it. They just keep on writing check and keep on coming, and we really-- -at 1430 we stop, we say that, no more, we’re finished, we’ll take this money and we’ll donate it to the World Trade Center Fund and also to the Red Cross. But there was some money that was already in the mail. That’s why it was 1.45 million dollars. [laughs].
But that is, you were talking about unity. I think that really demonstrates that if the Chinese want to show their unity they could do it. They really could do it. A lot of people give us credit for it, we receive a lot of awards for it, but I really, each time if I have to give a thank you speech, I really think that the credit really should be the people in the community, cause they never did anything like before. Never.
Q: But, this outpour of generosity, which is surprising, as you said for Chinese people, because a lot of times they just look after themselves---
Wong: Right, exactly.
Q: But do you think, in part, that’s because the location of Chinatown was so near Ground Zero that in same way Chinatown was kind of attacked, the effects of it. If this had happened, say in Harlem, do you think the Chinese community would have reacted the way they did?
Wong: Well, it was a tragedy. And I think the magnitude of the incident was so great that yes they would have done it. To this extreme, I think you have a point, because of the proximity, they would feel more, the impact, they would feel a lot more, because they’re here, they see it, they smell it. I mean, you, I don’t know where you were, for a month we were here. It was horrible smell, horrible.
Q: Let’s stop there and we have to change tapes.
Q: So you were talking about this, sort of surprising unity the Chinese people show in the aftermath of September 11th. So as a broadcaster, I mean, obviously you saw that people truly trusted you and looked towards you as a reliable source of information, because every station, every network, everybody was showing the same event, and this many people tune into you. What do you think, you know, why are you in that position, where people came to you, when they didn’t go to another one of the Chinese stations and donated this much money?
Wong: Well, I could think of a couple of reasons. I think number one is that we have been in the community for more than twenty-six years, so I think we have the grassroots Chinese public support. I think that’s number one. I think number two is really the power of the medium that you can reach out to so many people, and whatever you say is immediate. And during that time, where they cannot understand the mainstream reports, there were no newspaper, ah, transportation, if they live in Queens they cannot come out, if they live in Brooklyn they cannot come out. Even if they live in Chinatown, they may have difficulty getting through different streets, and we more or less became their friend. And when you can provide information, when you become their companion day and night, then that certainly build up that trust. And when they come here, they see that it’s a legitimate operation, you know, and it’s the word of mouth. And that’s how we build the trust.
And I think building the trust is through the way we present ourselves. With our programming, with our coverage, we did, I think we did a very, very good job. It was day and night. Even our DJ, they knew it, ‘cause they heard the same voice. It was almost 24 hours without interruption. And that was something that they never had experience with. Because in the past, you may listen to a program, and you turn it off, or another DJ come on, but this, on the 24-hour basis, it’s the same group of DJs that going to be there. And some of our DJs are touched, you know, even cry on the air, and we also interview people, family of the victims, they were here, we interviewed them. It make such a strong impact to the listeners.
So, that’s why we earned their trust.
Q: You think Chinatown was under-covered in the mainstream media, given how close it is to Ground Zero, and as a community where there’s actually a lot of residents---
Wong: Oh, yeah, absolutely, in my opinion, yes. No---we raised 1.45 million, right? Yes, we got a lot of coverage, but I can even quote you an example. I don’t have it now, but I think on a daily basis, during that time, during that period of time, if somebody gave us sixty thousand dollars charity they may have their photos and a big space on the newspaper. But we got our space, but not as prominent as, you know, other groups.
Q: Do you think that’s because the Asian community doesn’t have a leader? Chinatown doesn’t really have a distinct leader to represent the community in incidences like this, to stand out, and----
Wong: [laughs] Well, I think historically, as a group, we have never been very vocal. As a group, we have not been very---I’m not talking about leader or no leader, but as a group, we have not been very vocal. We did not, we were not very active in participating in the political process.
Q: So you said that 9/11 has put your organization on the map in some way, and I know that you presented Mayor Giuliani with the check ---
Q: --- at City Hall, so with all that exposure, what has that meant? How has that resulted in anything, a change in programming, or the way you see your responsibility in the community? Has it resulted in any change, this event?
Wong: Well, I think, as I said, it put us on the map. I think it makes us, selling our commercial time easier, in the community. But it just reinforce the fact that we have to ascertain the community needs in our programming, and I think that’s very important. I always advocate for providing a forum for the public to voice their each opinion, to discuss issues, on our radio, and I think we did a very good job on that.
Q: So if the Chinese community could come together during this 911 tragedy, you know, two years, more than two years have passed now, do you think that brief unity has resulted in positive changes in Chinatown? Do you think people, different groups talk to each other more, or there is more work towards rebuilding Chinatown together? Or everybody went back, to their own separate places after this event?
Wong: Well, I never, I never pay attention to what different groups are doing, so I really cannot answer that question, but I think it does show that the incident, or that time demonstrate that Chinese as a group, if they want to do something, they can unite and do something and achieve whatever goal they set out to do. Now, whether leadership, whether there’s a group that want to lead or has demonstrated that they want to lead, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t pay attention to local politics that much, but I am just very proud of the fact---and it changed my perspective. It really has changed my perspective. I’ve been here for so long now, and that really has demonstrated that---you know, I never thought that Chinese would pay that much attention to what’s around them. Chinese always, you know, they make sure that their children get good education, they make sure that they have enough money in the bank to put food on table and pay rent and all that.
But I think now, they have become more aware of events that happen around them. And I think that’s very positive.
Q: So does your station do, have you done more public announcement, or increased programs to educate the Chinese community?
Wong: Yes, we are. As a matter of fact, earlier I mentioned about political process. I think voter registration. A lot of people, they don’t understand the power of having the right to vote. So we want to encourage people to register. I think several weeks ago we had an event here---we have a magazine we publish, a weekly magazine. It’s a very popular magazine. And each Saturday there are people coming to pick up the magazine. And one Saturday we started the voter registration. And on one, on a three hours period, we registered close to two hundred people.
Now, two hundred people may sound a very small number, but when you figure in that most of the people, I shouldn’t say most---some of the people, they may not be resident. Some of the people may not even, you know, have legal status. Okay, so when you can sign up two hundred people that have the qualifications to vote, that’s a huge number in a three hours period. And we intend to do more, between now and the election. And I think that really would bring the awareness to people, that if they want to do something, if they want to get the kind of benefits that they want, or that will affect their children or whatever, voting is a very powerful tool. And we hope that we can achieve that.
Q: So as a whole station, where are you leading your team for the future? What more can Sino Television do?
Wong: If---[laughs]---I tell you, if I can achieve, by providing entertainment, and educating the public, and become a bridge between the Chinese community and the mainstream community, I think I have achieved it, and I have done a very good job. And that is a constant process. I mean, you cannot stop. Entertainment, yes, you can upgrade a program, you can import whatever program. But to really ascertain the community needs, you have to really pick out special issues, social issues, focus on current events, government program, they may make an impact to the Chinese-American way of life.
I think it’s very important for us to really, on one hand, bring awareness to the Chinese public, and on the other, to provide a forum for them to air their opinion. It’s almost an outlet to them.
Q: For their life in America.
Wong: Right. For example, we had our grand opening of our television facility here two weeks ago, and the Manhattan borough president came and do the ribbon cutting. And subsequent to that I wrote her a letter and thank her for her participation. At the same time I asked to do a weekly program with her, or even a monthly program, as the borough president. That is what I meant, a liaison, between the community here---
Q: You’re trying to get Chinese more involved.
Wong: More involved, and they’re, I think little things, you know, sometimes they may feel, like you say, they may, certain group may feel isolated. I think as a group Chinese sometimes they may feel that they are isolated. They may not know how come, you know, I park this car here, how come I got a ticket. They may have that. How come I have to pay for the, the getting rid of the tree in front of my house.
But if you put a public official, and answer the question, these type of question, they, it bring it closer to the mainstream society. They feel that, ah, they pay attention to us. And that’s the kind of role that we want to provide.
Q: And is there any goal to take your station nationally, so that it can be seen all over America?
Wong: We hope so, but that is a business decision. I think the success of a station, like I said earlier, is really based on local presence, and doing nationally, I think from the entertainment point of view, it may be good, but in terms of different communities, you still have to have local presence there. And that will be a challenge when we go national.
Q: And do you plan to stick
around for this challenge? You’re going to stay with this
Wong: [laughs]. I don’t know. I think it’s fun. But I think there are a lot of people who work here, they know my philosophy. And we are working towards that goal, whether I’m here or not, whether I manage it or not, it doesn’t really matter.
Q: That’s a good sign. A sign of a good manager. If you leave, everything still works. Right?
Wong: Well, thank you.
It’s very important. Otherwise, I think the power of the media will get lost. I think doing business, making good business is one thing I think is important, but ascertaining the community needs is also very important, so---you are in media, so you don’t need me to tell you that.
Q: So looking back, you’re happy with the choices you made? You’re okay that you didn’t become Ang Lee?
Wong: [laughs] Um---
Q: No regrets?
Wong: No, I don’t have any regret. I’ve been very lucky. I mean, who would have thought that a boy growing up in a poor environment can be where I am? Not that I’m very accomplished, but doing something meaningful. And I think that’s very important. Am I happy? Yeah. Overall I’m happy. We should always aim high.
Q: Well, you’re still young. There’s still time.
Wong: [laughs] The camera lies, okay? It’s right here.
Q: Well, I think you’re probably surprised that you have shared this much with us that you didn’t anticipate to, so---
Wong: Yeah, it’s my whole life history.
Q: But since the camera is still
rolling, is there anything else that you want to say, or tell the
public, that I haven’t asked you?
Wong: Um, I, no, I think you asked me just about everything.
Q: Okay, well, in that case, then, thank you Tony, very much for your time---
Wong: My pleasure, my pleasure.
Q: And my name is Lan Trinh.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
Chinatown Interview: Interview (zh)
<p>王：是的，我一直對媒體很感興趣。首先，我在香港出生長大。我來這裏學習廣播。我在西海岸的Eastern Washington State University獲得學士學位，然後又來這裏讀研究生。在畢業之後，我非常非常幸運在WNBC，4台，找到一份工作。我在NBC做了很多年。除了廣播以外，我從來沒有從事過任何其他職業。不是在電視臺做就是在廣播電臺做，或做媒體廣告。</p>
<p>後來，在夏天，我又去做農活。我去Green Giant、Del Monte摘豌豆等。</p>
<p>王：沒有在Tri-State，在紐約市，和新澤西的一部分。比如在Bergen縣北部，Hudson River沿岸，和史丹頓島，紐約市的五個區，加上Mount Vernon和Westchester縣。</p>
<p> 王：是的，是我一輩子的歷史。 </p>